The Paris Review Daily

Posts Tagged ‘cinema’

River of Fundament

February 12, 2014 | by

Matthew Barney’s singular new film.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament: Ren, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Chris Winget. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament, 2014, Production Still. Photo: David Regen. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney, Djed, 2009-2011, Cast iron and graphite block, 20 1/4 x 406 x 399 inches (50.2 x 1031.2 x 1013.5 cm). Photo: David Regen. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament: Khu, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament: Khu, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Keith Riley. © Matthew Barney.

Matthew Barney’s studio, the birthing place of some of the biggest and most ambitious art of our time, sits in an industrial New York netherzone by the East River in Queens. A couple blocks down is a garage for cast-off food carts in states of obliteration and disarray. On the streets stroll workers whose sturdy coats solicit calls to 888-WASTEOIL, for the service of all waste-oil wants and needs. Alongside the studio the mercurial river flows, its current changing direction several times a day.

Inside are forklifts to move things like six-ton blocks of salt and sculpturally abetted Trans Ams. Football jerseys hang on a wall, including one for the fabled Oakland Raiders center Jim Otto (his number, 00, puts Barney in mind of extra-bodily orifices). A staff of a half dozen studio hands oversees projects of enterprising kinds, from building and bracing large architectural oddities to disrupting and destroying sculptures and letting objects rot.

It was here that Barney completed River of Fundament, a new epic film project premiering this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with a running time of nearly six hours (including two intermissions) and passages that play as extravagantly abstracted and absurd. The film was inspired by Norman Mailer’s 1983 novel, Ancient Evenings, set in ancient Egypt and invested in stages of reincarnation that come after death. The story would not seem to be eminently filmable.

But River of Fundament is not exactly a film. It draws on a series of site-specific performances and elaborate happenings—live actions related to the project date back as far as 2007—and all of them, however cinematically presented in the end, fit as sensibly within the traditions of theater and opera. Shoots lasted for days, doubling as rituals or séances, with characters performing for an audience that would come to be part of the work. Read More »

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Don’t You Forget About Me

August 6, 2013 | by

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Some people revere Jean-Luc Godard, others obsess over finding subliminal messages in the films of Stanley Kubrick. Much as I love the work of these masters, the filmmaker whose work I tend to think the most about is John Hughes. From the iconic films he both wrote and directed (The Breakfast Club, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) to those he wrote and produced (Home Alone) the movies Hughes helped create between 1984 and 1991 are all classics in my eyes. (Even I will admit that after that his work gets really iffy: 101 Dalmatians, anybody?) I grew up laughing at his films, and when I eventually found myself homesick for the Chicagoland area I knew growing up, I’d revisit the copies of his films that I still watch on a monthly basis. Eventually I’d come to the realization that while David Kamp rightfully called Hughes the “Sweet Bard of Youth” in his 2010 Vanity Fair piece on the late director, I came to realize—thanks in large part to the distance between me and the place where I grew up—that Hughes was something even more; that he was to Chicago and its northern suburbs what Woody Allen was to Manhattan in the seventies and eighties. He made being from those bland suburbs seem more interesting than I recalled.

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Watch Richard Wright Act in Native Son

July 15, 2013 | by

In 1948, Richard Wright starred in this screen test for the film adaptation of his classic 1940 novel, Native Son. Says Studio 360’s Amanda Aronczyk, “if that sounds like a bad idea, that’s because it was”—not least because the non-actor was twice as old as twenty-year-old Bigger Thomas—but this clip remains a fascinating piece of literary and cinematic history.

 

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The International

June 7, 2011 | by

One of the distinctions of Film Socialisme in Jean-Luc Godard’s oeuvre is its near-absence of cinemacentric references (the most prominent visual citation is from Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, a film from the so-called experimental-film tradition, one that has played a slender part in Godard’s lifetime of cinematic reflections). This time around, Godard comes to the history of cinema from the outside, as in a sequence that features the voice-over remarks “My friends, I’ve found the black box: here’s why Hollywood is called the Mecca of cinema—the tomb of the Prophet—all gazes turned in the same direction—the movie theater.” Likening the movie screen to the Kaaba, Godard suggests that the secular Jews of Hollywood were also founders of a faith, of a devotion to the guided gaze, sacralized by the prophetic power of the image itself. Yet calling the discovery the “black box” suggests that Godard considers the definitive record of Hollywood’s influence also to be a disaster and its prophetic influence to be fraudulent. It also suggests the loss of faith that accounts for the absence of references to the classic cinema and, in particular, to the Hollywood movies that were the core of the tradition he inherited and perpetuated.

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Eating and Acting

May 17, 2011 | by

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan from The Trip.

The British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon met for dinner recently at an Italian restaurant in New York. As a plate of cheese and meat was passed around the table, Brydon, who was wearing a pink shirt, grabbed his midsection and sighed. “I’ve gained so much weight, and I haven’t been able to shift it,” he said. “It makes me so mad.” The men were in town because their new film, The Trip, was playing at the Tribeca Film Festival. In The Trip, Coogan and Brydon play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves and drive around England’s Lake District reviewing restaurants for The Observer. (The film originally aired as a six-part series on the BBC.) During filming, the men ate each meal three times, to allow for different camera setups. “Steve was smart,” Brydon said. “He just pushed the food around his plate. But I ate everything. Eating makes you a better actor because it distracts part of your brain. It’s like driving—if you’re eating or driving, you’re doing something real, so the acting seems more real, too.” (Much of The Trip takes place on the road, but Coogan did all the driving.)

The salad arrived. Brydon said that Michael Winterbottom, the film’s director, decided to make The Trip after noticing how many movies about food were playing at film festivals. Winterbottom chose the itinerary for the trip. (At dinner, a publicist suggested that the director needed a vacation after his previous movie, the ultra-violent The Killer Inside Me.) Brydon and Coogan worked with Winterbottom on Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, playing similarly exaggerated versions of their public personas: Coogan, the hedonistic, self-destructive comedian unable to shed his most famous role, the blissfully boorish Alan Partridge; Brydon, the contented family man whose fame as radio host and comedian is slowly eclipsing Coogan’s. In The Trip, Coogan spends evenings smoking pot, sleeping with comely hotel staff, and staring discontentedly in the mirror, while Brydon calls his wife for cozy long-distance tuck-ins (“speaking of boiled eggs, I’m not wearing my pajama bottoms”).

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Elena Bychkova on ‘Express-Course of Buddhism’

January 31, 2011 | by

This Tuesday, the North American premiere of Elena Bychkova’s short film, Express-Course of Buddhism, will screen at Tribeca Cinemas in New York City. The film follows the train journey of a Russian teenager who retreats from the grim realities of Russian manhood into a pop fantasy of Buddhist enlightenment, gleaned largely from the Internet. Bychkova, who was born in Siberia and holds a degree from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, joins fellow Russian independent filmmakers Sergey Groznov, Anton Koskov, and Roman Karimov in a residency cohosted by CEC ArtsLink and the Sundance Film Festival.

It’s odd to think of Buddhism in a Russian context. Why was it a theme you wanted to explore?

I noticed various young people pretend to be Buddhist, when in reality they just had no other way to spend their time. They’d use it as a pretext to hang out, without even giving much thought to what Buddhism must actually be about. There are also quite a number of people, especially young ones, who, without even thinking of the context of the religion, without practicing Buddhism, would take a phrase from that context and use it to justify their actions, whether they were right, or, as in most cases, wrong. I thought it was a peculiar cultural occurrence.

Your films have won awards in both Russia and Europe. Is there a difference in the way Russians and Europeans appreciate your work? Do they take different things away from it?

Frankly, I don’t really see much difference between Russian and European perceptions of my films. I do see a difference in perception by different age groups. In Russia, Express-Course of Buddhism received all of its awards from small independent festivals organized by young people. Despite the fact that I received a grand jury award from the film festival held by the university I graduated from, the dean told me he would think twice before presenting the film to the Russian First Lady, who usually gets copies of all the winning films. Surprise seems to be well received by everyone regardless of age. I found it interesting that the audience at the Abu-Dhabi Film Festival in the Arab Emirates reacted to the film exactly like the audience in Russia.

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